CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a stunning decision, NASCAR driver Carl Edwards is walking away from the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing less than two months after nearly winning his first Cup championship, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Joe Gibbs Racing scheduled a pair of news conferences today in which Edwards is expected to announce he will not drive the No. 19 Toyota this season. The second announcement is that reigning Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez will replace Edwards in the Cup Series.
The 37-year-old Edwards informed team owner Joe Gibbs right before Christmas that he no longer wanted to compete, the people told AP, confirming a decision first reported by Fox Sports.
“This is comparable to Barry Sanders’ retirement back in 1999, shocking and with loads of ability and time left in a very successful career,” said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. Edwards is a four-time Cup winner in Fort Worth.
“I talked to Carl about a month ago and he didn’t give any indication that he was considering this,” Gossage said. “It is a shock that just doesn’t seem real.”
Edwards may not be done for good: He could simply be sitting out one year of competition for myriad reasons, and there could be jobs waiting for him in 2018. Tony Stewart has retired and has a four-car lineup that is moving this year to Ford, where Edwards was closely aligned before he spent the last two seasons driving for Gibbs.
Also, concerns about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion history, plus underperformance by Kasey Kahne, could open seats at Hendrick Motorsports.
Edwards has given no indication what he’s thinking or what the future may hold. In a text message to The Associated Press, he wrote: “I’m kinda hungry. Going to Subway!” in reference to his longtime sponsor. He also stated simply: “All good.”
Edwards came oh-so-close to winning his first Cup championship in November’s finale. He was leading all contenders with 10 laps left at Homestead until he tried to block Joey Logano on a restart and crashed.
The class and dignity Edwards showed after the accident — he walked from his wrecked car to the pit box for Logano and wished that team luck in the closing laps — was widely lauded. He also came close to a title in 2011, finishing second to Stewart on a tiebreaker.
Edwards, who is extremely private, has two young children that he steadfastly refuses to discuss in interviews. He lives in Missouri, while most NASCAR drivers live in North Carolina.
Edwards won three races in 2016 as JGR dominated and put two drivers in the final four. He spent 13 years in Cup and has 28 victories in 445 starts.
He first landed a ride with Jack Roush and won the 2007 Xfinity Series title.